With a total of 111 million annual visits, libraries are fundamental to Australia's social fabric and increasingly to its success as a national economy. In the current volatile economic climate however, Australia's libraries are being called upon to do more with less. This paper will present the findings of a project funded by the Australian Research Council, that aimed to help Australia’s libraries to make tough decisions in an environment where there is competition for limited resources. The project established an empirical basis for evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP). EBLIP is an approach to professional practice that is grounded on the gathering and use of a robust evidence-base to inform the many decisions that must be made, and problems that must be addressed, now and into the future.
The project consisted of two sub-studies. The public library sub-study was conducted using ethnography. Over a 5-month period, a member of the research team travelled to the a regional public library service on 15 occasions staying between 3 and 4 days on each visit. The researcher observed, interacted and became involved in the day-to-day activities of this library. These activities were recorded in a journal and added to the researcher’s insights and thoughts. Additionally, 12 face-to-face interviews with staff in positions ranging from the operational to the executive were conducted. The academic sub-study was conducted using Constructivist Grounded Theory. Semi-structured interviews were conducted either in person or via Skype, with 13 librarians from Queensland universities. Interviewees were in a diverse array of roles, from liaison librarian to manager and library director.
The paper will provide an overview of the project including brief discussion of the key findings from the two sub-studies. The public library sub-study found that the following key aspects depicted the experience of EBLIP in a public library: leadership, culture, learning, context, collaboration and second nature. In the academic library sub-study six categories were constructed which describe librarians experiences of evidence-based practice as: empowering, intuiting, affirming, connecting, noticing and impacting.
The project findings will help to build an empirical basis for EBLIP. Although there has been a growing interest in evidence base practice within the library and information science (LIS) sector there is a limited empirical basis for its understanding within LIS, which has implications for how well it can be implemented within the professional practice of LIS professionals. This project will ensure that EBLIP can be empirically and practically developed as an approach to professional practice that allows for more robust and empirically driven decision-making. Thereby helping to ensure that government and public funding is utilized soundly, with community accountability, and that Australia’s libraries are truly helping to lead the nation.
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